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Country View loses top administrator during budget process

WATERLOO — Black Hawk County’s efforts to keep Country View afloat are growing more difficult.

The county-run nursing and mental health care center’s top two administrative officials are leaving in February as the Board of Supervisors debates how to plug a projected $2.5 million shortfall in the facility’s operating budget next year.

Dennis Coleman, who has served as administrator at Country View for two and a half years, has resigned effective Feb. 21. Assistant Administrator Genevieve Shafer had previously submitted her resignation effective Feb. 9.

“I want to thank the board for the trust that was placed with me in the leadership role at Country View,” Coleman said in his resignation notice. “It will always be appreciated.”

Craig White, who chairs the Board of Supervisors, said the board expects to appoint an interim administrator while it explores options for managing the nursing center in the long term.

Coleman and Shafer join other departures at Country View, which is reportedly struggling to fill vacant positions and maintain staff morale as the supervisors publicly discuss how to handle mounting deficits.

Supervisor Chris Schwartz during a budget work session Tuesday questioned whether the board’s commitment to keeping Country View open would help the staffing situation.

“If the future was a little bit more certain I think that would relieve a lot of people’s concerns,” Shafer replied. “It would probably make employment more stable and help us to attract the better employees we want.”

County Finance Director Susan Deaton said a preliminary budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, calls for a $418,000, or 1.1 percent, overall increase in county property tax collection.

Adding the projected $2.5 million in additional revenue to subsidize Country View next year would boost that tax increase to nearly $3 million, or 7.8 percent. And that number could grow because County Social Services is considering plans to reduce its $1.1 million contribution to the Country View budget.

Board members discussed options such as tapping cash reserves or delaying capital improvement projects to cover some of Country View’s expenses. The board used $2 million in reserves this year to pay the facility’s bills.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable taxing for the full amount,” said Supervisor Frank Magsamen. “If we’re going to be in this long term, we could look at $3 million to $4 million (each year).”

Magsamen and Supervisor Linda Laylin both suggested the county look at moving nursing home clients from Country View to other facilities when feasible. Laylin said the county needs to look at those options before asking the taxpayers to pick up the remaining losses.

“The people out there, most of the other nursing homes don’t want them … because they’re hard to work with,” White replied. “But they’re still human beings.”

Country View is one of just two county-run nursing homes in Iowa. The other, Sunnycrest in Dubuque, receives a $3 million operating subsidy and gets another $1 million in taxes for capital improvements each year.

Black Hawk County officials said Country View’s main problem is Medicaid reimbursement rates for clients cover only 80 percent of the cost of their care. Extremely high use of Family Medical Leave Act leave also boosts costs by requiring the use of temporary staffing agencies.

Schwartz said he was not in favor of closing or attempting to privatize Country View.

“I haven’t had a single email, I haven’t had a single phone call from anyone who says those folks aren’t a priority,” Schwartz said. “I want to see it included in this year’s budget.

“We’ve got 170 good-paying union jobs that support a lot of working families in our community,” he said. “I don’t want to see us lose those. I don’t want to see those unions get busted.”

Magsamen said he shared Schwartz’s concerns, but noted the difficulty of having a county run a nursing home.

“The disadvantage we have as a county is we have one facility to operate,” he said. “In the business world, they have multiple facilities that they can draw on (shared) resources.”

Country View currently is home to 132 residents in both its nursing center and intermediate care facility for the intellectually disabled.

Board members are expected to consider budget deliberations Thursday.

Daniel Delagardelle